I confess I don't care that much for Woody Allen films. I get fidgety when a point is hammered home over several minutes that most anyone could have gotten in 30 seconds. I appreciate a lot of Woody Allen in retrospect. His cinematic moments join a vast collection in my life that I enjoy remembering but which I would not want to experience again. Your mileage may vary. Woody Allen is much more popular than am I.
One memory remains pretty good. Allen's conversation with Diane Keaton's character, Annie Hall, is interrupted by a loud blowhard standing standing behind them in a movie line. The bombast holds forth a monologue about media guru Marshall McLuhan. Finally, Allen provokes an argument with the pompous one. Allen thinks the man's views are, not to put too fine a point on it, without merit. The fellow is indignant.
"I happen to teach a class at Columbia University called ‘TV and Culture’" lectures the man. He holds forth his views as authoritative. "So I think that my insights into Mr. McLuhan have a great deal of validity."
So Allen responds. "Oh do you? Well, that's funny. I happen to have Mr. McLuhan right here." He pulls Marshall McLuhan from behind a movie poster. "I heard what you were saying," McLuhan says to the man. "You know nothing of my work ... How you ever got to teach a course in anything is totally amazing."
Woody Allen turns to the audience. "Boy, if life were only like this." Here is a brief clip.
For a while, I have had occasion to refer to a proposition by conservative Julian Sanchez of the Cato Institute. He describes an entire information system that forecloses any alternate view or information. As I read him, he observes fellow conservatives wrapping themselves in a cocoon, accepting as possible worldviews only those that fit comfortably into this system. He refers to the system of exclusive information as "epistemic closure."
I have sought to apply the Sanchez proposition to what I see as a sociological phenomenon. It seems to me destined to destroy the Republican Party as a credible national presence. Most disagreement with my own proposition is either personal (Burr engages in wishful thinking), or misapplied (lots of liberals are closed-minded, too).
I do speculate about why the left has not gone into an equivalent system of leftward epistemic closure. I haven't found a satisfactory answer.
I reject the wishful thinking objection as unresponsive. Anyone who thinks I am wrong does me a basic courtesy by explaining where my logic or evidence is flawed. Those who do not do me that courtesy might forgive me for thinking their refusal is based on inability.
Rejection based on "lots of folks are closed minded" misinterprets that message, I think. The issue I present is not based on closed mindedness, which is an individual characteristic. It is based on a larger phenomenon and borrows a bit from the controversy stirred by Julian Sanchez.
Even a review of the Julian Sanchez proposition by the New York Times a couple of years ago seemed to misapply the concept. The entire piece seemed based on whether conservatives are closed minded.
So, last week, I wrote a protest piece of sorts. The title pretty directly described the theme: Epistemic Closure Is Not Closed Mindedness. The response might lead us to believe the point was largely lost. Not entirely, though. There was one surprise.
My friend T. Paine wrote to suggest that I am guilty of epistemic closure. "The fact that you don’t see that liberalism, in general, is particularly guilty of this strikes me as your own personal iteration of epistemic closure, my friend!" Which either means that I am closed minded (sigh) or that we should strive for a more complex explanation.
This would describe a system of information that closes me off from liberal views that are in turn closed off from other views and data to the point of an alternate reality. My alternate to the alternate would be, I suppose, an epistemic closure that is entirely contained within, yet closed off from, the proposed liberal closure. Kind of a universe within a universe within the mainstream universe.
As I see it, either my friend T. Paine should go into a new branch of quantum physics, or he has actually conflated, once more, epistemic closure with an individual state of being closed minded.
Another close friend John Myste, writes to say that his contact with conservative debaters reveals to him an openness that is equivalent to that of liberals. If only my pal had left out one sentence, we could have explored a self-selective process. His contact with conservatives who consider his opinions shows that one hundred percent of those conservatives are quite willing to consider a worldview outside the conservative structure proposed by Julian Sanchez, which is to say that everyone who considers his opinion is willing to consider his opinion. Sadly, John included this: "On the conservative sites, liberals are considered intolerant of opposing views and on the liberal sites, conservatives are." So we are back to conflating a closed mind with the Sanchez observation of Epistemic Closure.
Fortunately, to my delight, Marshall McLuhan jumped from behind the curtain his own self, without my even speaking to the camera. After our publication of the piece and the comments in response, Julian Sanchez wrote to us a reply that may serve as a final word on what he meant.
FWIW, as I think I tried to clarify in a follow up post, I did not mean EC as a synonym for "closed-mindedness," or any other characteristic that could be ascribed to an individual. It was really a collective phenomenon: When you have enough ideological information sources quoting and referencing each other to constitute a full blown ecosystem. The "closure" happens when it's built up enough that any contrary information seems like an outlier that automatically discredits its source rather than prompting reevaluation. (At some level this happens with any information system, and can be useful: If a paper reported the earth was flat, you'd correctly decide you should ignore that paper from now on.) It has nothing really to do with individual propensities to open-mindedness; it's a description of an environment, not any particular people within it.
Boy, life sometimes really is like this.
More, much more, of Julian Sanchez can be found at his own site.
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That is not what I said or suggested. If you are alleging that a Party will die due to epistemic closure, I do not have to show that 100% of members of that party are open minded. I only have to show that some of them are and the epistemic closure does not define the party. The burden of proof lies with you, not me. Since I never spoke to 100% of the party, since I don’t believe in such absolutes, your accusation is a straw man.
“So we are back to conflating a closed mind with the Sanchez observation of Epistemic Closure.”
“He describes an entire information system that forecloses any alternate view or information.”
That is, by definition of the literal words, closed-mindedness. So, it would seem your complaint is that epistemic disclosure describes the system, not individuals working from within it. Therefore, I have no choice but to concede to whatever point you were trying to make when you define epistemic closure. I certainly cannot debate the point, whatever that is.
The operative sentence in the section you quoted was this:
"If only my pal had left out one sentence, we could have explored a self-selective process." That was from me.
That might warn the discerning reader that I was not about to report what you said, but rather what we could have explored had you not included this: "On the conservative sites, liberals are considered intolerant of opposing views and on the liberal sites, conservatives are." That was from you.
My suggestion was that, had your sentence been omitted and your meaning been different, the effective counterpoint would have been that your survey of fair minded conservatives, defined as those who interact with you, would necessarily be self-selective. All of those who interact with you are willing to interact with you.
By a strange coincidence, I have the same experience. All of those who interact with me are willing to interact with me.
My prediction of a decline of the GOP is not based on 100% of anything. If it was, then you would be correct. One errant Republican would be enough to save the national effectiveness of the entire GOP.
Although I certainly appreciate your enlightening explanation of what Mr. Sanchez means by "epistemic closure" I'm thinking he might be the better judge. He writes in specifically to say the opposite of what you insist he means.
A link to his website was included. I'm sure he would appreciate your help in defining what he means.
By a strange coincidence, I have the same experience. All of those who interact with me are willing to interact with me.”
I have never seen you use so many straw man arguments as you have recently. I dispute both liberal and conservative faiths. Common liberals, not celebrities, are not more open to dissenting opinions than conservatives are, so far as I can tell. I see no difference.
“Although I certainly appreciate your enlightening explanation of what Mr. Sanchez means by "epistemic closure" I'm thinking he might be the better judge. He writes in specifically to say the opposite of what you insist he means.”
Back to you failure to conflate “an entire information system that forecloses any alternate view or information” with “closed-mindedness.” To “prove” you case, you argue that someone who made up a term agrees with you. I could make up a term: “modsiw” and define it as a liberal’s propensity to misrepresent his opponent’s arguments. I could then say that this is nothing like a propensity to present straw man arguments, and you are missing the point. If you objected, I would have to point out that I made up the term and you don’t get to choose what it means.
Now wouldn’t that be fallacious?
“A link to his website was included. I'm sure he would appreciate your help in defining what he means.”
So, in very clear terms, explain to me just what “epistemic closure” means to YOU in the context of Republicans. I need to hear how individual republicans are just people, no more or less close-minded than democrats, but that as a unit, they have completely insulated themselves from any logical thought in favor of their dogma. If you agree with this, explain how you know. If not, explain why in the context of epistemic closure. I need this in summary, as your long articles explaining the death of the GOP seem to veer more in the direction of theology and you are nothing if not a man with facts. Once this is clarified, I will, once and for all, understand what “epistemic closure” truly means, and how it must be true because Sanchez made up the term, so he can make it mean whatever he chooses.
You are a delightful person, and, time permitting, I enjoy brief walks in your world. The sky is so blue.
It is a world in which political viewpoints are disparaged out of hand as "faith", evidence is a sign of intellectual dishonesty unless it is comprehensive, encompassing views not held by the one presenting it, visual aids are a form of presentation to be rejected out of hand, and opposing arguments are to be dismissed with no explanation other than a label.
I regard such strictures as permissible whenever I enter a Lewis Carroll construct.
But I should, from time to time, remind you that short visits are different from lifelong habitation. In the world in which I actually live, it is completely permissible, when confronted by evidence, even if that evidence is personal experience, to point out that personal experience can be self-selective.
In your case, the observation you reject as Straw Man simply points out a tautology. Everyone who considers your opinion is willing to consider your opinion. Nobody who can see me is blind, and everyone I speak with is alive.
Those facts are valueless in examining whether everyone dies, whether lots of people have impaired vision, whether conservatives have constructed an alternate system of information and views which system is largely internally reinforcing and independent of outside influence, or whether Mr. Sanchez needs your guidance in constructing a definition that will better fit your arguments. In my world, labeling arguments (Strawman, Dogma, Wishful Thinking, Faith) without answering them is a signal that the unwillingness comes from inability.
That individuals you meet are closed minded or open minded or just willing to meet you is an interesting alternate topic, however. It is a nice stroll in Wonderland fitting that into your peculiar rules of debate.
We really must take these little walks more often.
While I completely disagree with this philosophy of yours, I am happy to repeat it often.
“In my world, labeling arguments (Strawman, Dogma, Wishful Thinking, Faith) without answering them is a signal that the unwillingness comes from inability.”
I label as straw man arguments you accredit to me that I do not make. It is not incumbent upon me to answer arguments you invent. It speaks not of ability, but to an unwillingness to allow you to force me into a position I don’t hold as a debating tactic. That approach does not work with me.
I label as dogma the beliefs seemingly born of a cliquish affiliation to a political group where things are parroted as facts without circumspection behind them. I label attempts to corroborate such positions as the Retained Attorney would to be dogmatic efforts.
I label as wishful thinking that which one needs to believe, and so declares to have discovered, with no evidence indicating the truth of the discovery.
I label as faith the belief of things based on reasons other than logic or empirical evidence. These include the belief that someone believes something, even though he denies believing it or the belief that those who do not think like us philosophically are destined scheduled for annihilation due to their by their own folly.
I have listed examples where I used evidence to make an argument. You seem to dismiss them out of hand without notice. I do not state that republicans are becoming extinct. I could not possibly know that. There is no data to prove or disprove it. There is no basis for a rational opinion that it is true. I do not state that the mythical conservative entity is epistemologically sealed. There is no way to prove that or to know it if it were true.
I do state that there have been precedents for the federal government forcing the purchase of something, which was the first objection to Obamacare. For evidence of this this, I cite the precedents. I do state that the credit downgrade was not all about entitlements. For this, I quote the publication of the stated explanation by those who downgraded us that explicitly states other reasons. I do state that there is no reason to believe in the New Covenant. For this I recite the alleged evidence and point out that nowhere in the quote does it suggest the interpretation Christians give. I do cite that the Christian God had no problem with killing (and now, thanks to T. Paine, that there is not even a commandment prohibiting it). To prove this, I cite places where God commanded people to kill and I cite the use of the actual word in the “commandment” and its meaning in ancient Hebrew. I do not speculate beyond that. The prohibition is only against “murder,” not “killing.”
You have repeatedly accused me of not believing in evidence. Because I reject evidence that selects from a pool of numbers and stats, often in the form of charts or graphs, and makes a case using them, while ignoring other numbers, or charts or graphs, that tell the opposite story, I must not believe in evidence period. If I don’t believe you, then I must not believe in truth.
I do not reject that kind of “evidence.” I recognize it for what it is, a choice of many bits of data that leaves out what refutes and promotes what corroborates. That kind of evidence does nothing to show “fact.” It only shows that there is support for a chosen position. Anyone who looks at such evidence should assume that there is also support for the opposing view (or in your case, also read The Heathen Republican), where you get the opposite tale, usually with more precise “facts.”
It is important to recognize the difference between facts and justification for an argument. Rejecting justifications as truth does not make me closed off to evidence, any more than Sanchez creating a label makes the Mythical Republican Entity closed off to evidence.
It also does not mean, as you have falsely accused over and over, that I am closed to facts and just make up the tale myself.
Here is the confusion:
I tend too often to argue what I believe for the reason I believe it. If my position is philosophical, I make philosophical arguments and I don’t even bother looking up data to corroborate my philosophy, as philosophy cannot be proven with data, only science can.
I listed several cases where I made arguments using “facts.” Your gripe with my approach seems to be that I do not claim to have the truth when my opinion is not provable. In addition, I do not then research and find the evidence to support my philosophy. That would make me a hypocrite. If I claim an argument is philosophical and that there is evidence to argue either side of the case, if I then go find the evidence that supports my position, I am a hypocrite.
So, your charge that I reject the use of evidence to support a position is itself in need of correction. A better charge would be that I do not use “evidence” to corroborate a philosophical position that is not based on that evidence. To this, I plead guilty, and if it helps mend fences, I will graciously concede that you are an innocent man.
I have no gripe with your approach. In fact, I encourage you to confine yourself to whatever individual debate ethic you find personally appropriate.
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